Math + pop music = hidden education

Popular music group OK Go, famous for their unusual and meticulously planned videos (which often put Rube Goldberg to shame) have done it again, this time with a video that explores a world we cannot see.

The video opens with a 4.2-second burst of frenetic action, all flying colored salt and bullets penetrating buckets of paint and exploding water balloons and guitars. It goes by so fast that you’re not even sure what happened.

Then the real magic begins. The video returns to the beginning and shows it all again, this time in super slow motion. And this is when you realize that every event in these 4.2 seconds has been perfectly synchronized to the beat of the music and even to specific syllables in the lyrics. It is a phenomenal, real-world example of mathematics at work. (Teachers will love showing this to teens.) Damian Kulash, Jr., the lead singer, worked on the math for this video for “eight to ten hours a day, for, like, a month.”

So watch this, and then read a bit more about it. Oh, and you really need to see it full screen.

Got all that?

OK Go put up background notes and some interesting Q&A on their website. It will make the geeks happy with answers to things such as:

How many things happen in it?

It sort of depends how you count “things,” but there are 318 events (54 colored salt bursts behind Tim, 23 exploding paint buckets, 128 gold water balloons, etc.) that were synchronized to the music before the breakdown.

Did you really blow up all those guitars?

Yes, but they were already being scrapped by Fender for not meeting their quality control standards, which is to say they were defects. No playable guitars were harmed in the making of this video.

But the best part is the spreadsheet. You have to go check out that spreadsheet.

There’s also a video on the making of the video, which is worth a look. My favorite bit: when the guy in charge of building the hardware and doing the coding to make all of this stuff happen says, “The last time that I’ve seen someone having to build something this accurate to fire pyrotechnics was the Manhattan Project.”

Hat tip to Rebecca.

Posted in music, science, tech | 5 Comments

This year for Christmas: CATALYST

Guess what’s coming to (an online) bookstore near you? Book 4 in the Chronicles of Alsea series: Catalyst.

This is a full-length novel which takes place immediately after Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge. In fact, Catalyst picks up the day after the previous book ends. If you’re curious about what happened to Captain Ekatya Serrado and Doctor Lhyn Rivers during the time they were absent from Alsea, this book has all the answers.

Catalyst cover

From the back cover:

After disobeying orders and saving the planet of Alsea from invasion, Captain Ekatya Serrado returns home a hero and renegade, alongside Dr. Lhyn Rivers, now the foremost authority on a culture that fascinates and terrifies. They share a secret: they are tyrees, linked by an Alsean empathic bond that should be biologically impossible for two Gaians. The secret could cost Ekatya her career, but when both women are drawn into a high stakes political game, their tyree bond may be all that stands between them and the dangerous enemies they have made.

In Catalyst, the fourth book of the Chronicles of Alsea, the bonds of love, friendship, and family are redefined. The intersection of the Alsean and Gaian cultures has profoundly changed both—and become a catalyst for miracles.

All of our favorite characters are there, including Andira Tal and Salomen Opah, though the bulk of the story belongs to Ekatya and Lhyn. Their decisions at Alsea have followed them home, and nothing can ever be the same.

The paperback version of Catalyst will be available on Amazon beginning December 7; at that time Amazon will be taking pre-orders for the e-books as well (they’ll be available on the 21st). If an e-book is what you want and you don’t wish to wait, you can go to Ylva Publishing and buy direct from there, starting on the 7th.

Posted in writing | 4 Comments

Vellmar the Blade free giveaway (Olympics edition)

The Olympics have ended, and many of us are feeling a little post-Olympic letdown. We saw people doing practically superhuman things, overcoming incredible odds, demonstrating heartwarming acts of kindness…these are the stories that keep us watching, and now we have to wait another two years (or four, if you’re summer sport oriented) before we can see them again.

Take heart! There’s a way to mitigate the letdown. You can read Vellmar the Blade, a novella in the Chronicles of Alsea series that follows the adventures of Lead Guard Vellmar when she competes against her mother in the Global Games — Alsea’s version of the Olympics.

It’s not your usual story with a predictable ending, because as the blurb says:

Vellmar became a legend not for winning a championship, but for losing it.

At 102 pages, Vellmar the Blade is a quick and easy entry into the Chronicles of Alsea. It’s not part of the main story arc, but it offers an absorbing glimpse into the Alsean culture and some of the characters who live there. If you or someone you know have been interested in this award-winning series, but are not quite sure about tackling such large books…here is your entry point.

VtB books

In celebration of our own Olympics (and the fact that a lovely box of paperbacks just arrived at my house), I am giving away two signed copies of Vellmar the Blade in a drawing. To qualify for the drawing, simply comment on this blog post and share two things: 1) the name of your favorite female athlete from the Rio Olympics, and 2) the reason why she became your favorite athlete.

I will run the contest for a week and draw names next Tuesday. The two winners will hear from me that day, and as soon as I have addresses, I’ll pop your autographed copies in the mail.

And now I will sit down and enjoy the contest entries, because they’re sure to be a wonderfully diverse bunch of names and reasons.

Posted in good news, writing | 17 Comments

Chronicles of Alsea: all award finalists, all on sale

CoA covers

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog, and I will explain why in a future post…but in the meantime, I wanted to share some good news with everyone.

All three books in my Chronicles of Alsea series were published last year, and they have been racking up awards and accolades ever since. The Caphenon is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and both Without A Front: The Producer’s Challenge and Without A Front: The Warrior’s Challenge are now finalists for the Goldies (awarded by the GCLS).

In celebration, Ylva Publishing currently has all three e-books of the series on sale for $4.99. If you’d like to give a gift to a friend, now is the time!

It’s only for today — the sale ends Wednesday at 06:00 German time (which is tonight for the US).

In the meantime, I am furiously scribbling on the fourth book in the series…

Posted in writing | 4 Comments

The camera you have

I went for a walk in the rain today, and on a whim decided to trek into a field I know well for its orchid population in spring. It’s really too soon for any orchids; they shouldn’t be there until next month, but I figured what the heck…

And there they were. None in full bloom yet, but quite a few pushing up their buds and several in that beautiful phase where the flower head is just about to unwrap and unfold.

Naked man orchid closed 1

I thought, “I’ve got to come back tomorrow with my Fuji camera and get some macro shots of these.” And then I thought about how fast flowers unfold, and how likely it was that this particular one would not appear the same in 24 hours of time…so I pulled out my iPhone, which goes with me on every walk because it houses my music library, and snapped a few pictures.

Dang if they don’t look pretty good.

Then I went over to the only open flower in the field (visible at the top of the above photo) and took a picture of that.

Naked man orchid open 1

You can probably see from this why they’re called Naked Man Orchids (Orchis italica).

As I tucked my phone (and earbud cords) back into my raincoat and resumed my walk, I thought about the photographer’s idiom that the best camera for the job is the one you have with you. It’s true.

But I’m still taking my Fuji back for macro shots.

Posted in wildflowers | 7 Comments

Total shock: the new Star Wars is fun for all

This is me eating crow and being delighted to do so.

My wife and and I took our kid to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night, and I went fully armed with my skepticism because, ya know, JJ Abrams and ruined Star Trek franchise and lens flare and women losing their clothes while playing bit parts as men do everything heroic. I predicted, possibly at length, that we were about to witness Abrams ruining a second epic franchise, but at least this wouldn’t be so awful since there wasn’t much left to ruin after George Lucas destroyed it with the Prequels That Must Not Be Named.

BUT! Either someone really reined JJ Abrams in, or he had some far better writers/advisors, or someone gave him some good drugs. Because this Star Wars is great fun for boys and girls. It has two separate hero arcs for two separate heroes: one is a young man finding both his courage and the right side to fight for, while the other takes the more traditional hero journey of a lonely young scrapper discovering her hidden powers, leaving her narrow, circumscribed life, and joining a fight far larger than she ever imagined.

We really enjoyed it. It was great fun, with (intentional!) humor and fantastic action sequences, gorgeous settings, and real honest-to-goddess acting. Also: nothing even close to Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks. You will of course be required to check all scientific awareness at the door, which I mostly did happily, though I still choked at the idea of draining the entirety of a star’s energy into a sphere the size of a planet (with a living forest and snow on top, no less). I also had to consciously suppress any mental calculations about how long it would take to slow a ship to below the speed of sound after entering a planet’s atmosphere at the speed of light while somehow avoiding being turned into a paste dripping down the inside front windshield. (Never mind the calculations on how a ship could hit a planetary atmosphere at the speed of light and not become an instant and spectacular ball of ionized gas.)

But those moments aside…this was fun. Just fun. I want to see it again if only to admire the amazing sets and action pieces. And can I just say how utterly, wonderfully fabulous it is that after six damn movies, Star Wars finally gave us a heroine?*

This film erases the painful, slow motion disaster that was the prequels, or Episodes I, II and III if you’ve never quite grasped that the prequels came after the originals (I never have). For the first time since The Phantom Menace made us all throw our popcorn at the screen in 1999, I am looking forward to a Star Wars sequel.

* (Yes, yes, I know: Queen Amidala. She had such promise early on, but then turned into a two-dimensional plot device whose only purpose was to provide a reason for Anakin to go to the Dark Side, pop out two kids, and die. Daisy Ridley’s character of Rey does more in the first half of The Force Awakens than Amidala did in three movies.)

Posted in entertainment | 8 Comments

The Caphenon on sale today

The Caphenon 500x800

Looking for holiday gift ideas? How about The Caphenon ON SALE for today only at Ylva’s Super Sunday sales. A different book is featured every Sunday this month, today it’s The Caphenon, and the price is just $2.99. That is two-thirds off the normal $8.99 price.

Let me repeat: The Caphenon is on sale for $2.99 right now, and only today.

Go get some for your family and friends!

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Not-quite-wallpaper Monday

While looking around for wallpapers today, I came across this video, which is essentially 5:30 minutes of non-stop wallpapers that track a trail runner on his run up Suilven Mountain in the Scottish Highlands:

Suilven: The Trail Runner” is a short film following Tom as he runs out of the sleepy town of Lochinver, leaving civilisation behind and into the desolate and remote countryside, up onto one of the most distinctive mountains in Scotland. We follow him across the moorland, through the bogs and lochan before journeying with him onto the ridge, looking out to the Atlantic Ocean before descending to the south and visiting the Falls of Kirkaig as he leaves the mountain behind.

The filming is artistic and beautiful — one of my favorite moments is when the runner is seen from inside an old shack, as he flashes past the open doorway — and in combination with the gorgeous scenery, it makes for a visual poem.

Enjoy. (And if you can, watch it in HD, because holy moly. You can practically feel the rough texture of the heather.)

Posted in video | 2 Comments

That other rocket company

Though Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been getting most of the press regarding the technological race to create reusable rockets, they’re not the only game in town. Some other guy named Jeff Bezos, better known as the founder of, has also set up an aerospace development and manufacturing company. It’s called Blue Origin.

While SpaceX is focusing on the science, exploration, and supply side of things, Blue Origin is focusing on space tourism. They want to take you where no one has gone before — no one, that is, other than government-funded astronauts and private tourists wealthy enough to buy tickets.

I will easily admit to a bias regarding which team I’m rooting for, but as a good friend pointed out, profit has ever been the driving force behind many of humanity’s great advances. With that in mind, let’s admire and celebrate Blue Origin’s recent accomplishment of flying a rocket 100 kilometers into space and then landing it again, right on the pad. Fantastic technology and a true win for everyone.

(Hat tip to Walt.)

Posted in tech, video | 4 Comments

Wallpaper Monday

Bisti badlands

Filed under “Looks Like A Painting” — the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico, with a bit of gorgeous Milky Way thrown in for good measure.

This photo is a sci-fi story waiting to happen…

(Click the image to embiggen. Photo by Wayne Pinkston.)

Posted in wallpaper | 1 Comment